Everybody thought Diego Elizondo was going to lose. Everybody was wrong.
The 22-year-old boxer stunned previously undefeated Aaron Perez and his hometown Albuquerque, New Mexico, crowd by winning a 10-round unanimous decision in the main event at Kiva Auditorium on Saturday.
Elizondo improved his professional record to 4 wins, 2 losses and 3 draws, while Perez is now 10-1-1.
The heavily favored slugger Perez won the early rounds but Elizondo used a superior reach and constantly landed body blows to take control. Unlike his previous fight, Elizondo received a fair decision while fighting in his opponent’s backyard.
Perez’s uncle, Jordan Perez of Legacy Promotions, put on the card.
The near sellout crowd of the first boxing event in Albuquerque since the start of the pandemic was not as magnanimous and it booed the decision.
“This is a major upset,” Elizondo said. “Afterwards, I got to stick my tongue out and smile in everyone’s face. It was just surreal.”
With the exception of one six-round fight, each of Elizondo’s previous bouts were four-rounders. Perez was coming off an eight-round draw with undefeated Raymond Ford, the WBA Continental featherweight champion.
Elizondo’s father and trainer, Jose, said his son absorbed the hardest punches of his career but used his height to his advantage.
“Diego knows how to use his reach,” Jose Elizondo said. “Diego does very well with the shorter guys.”
Elizondo weighted 134.8 pounds and Perez, in his first fight in the lightweight division, was 134.4. Perez moved up from the 126 super featherweight division. Moreover, Elizondo is 5-foot-10 and Perez is 5-5.
“I think they really underestimated me,” Elizondo said. “I think the moment they saw me, they didn’t realize how tall I was.”
Elizondo may have reminded spectators of Albuquerque’s greatest boxer, Bob Foster, who was skinny but a towering 6-foot-3 light heavyweight who dominated his division for nearly a decade.
Elizondo-Perez was a classic boxer-slugger matchup.
“It was surprisingly pretty easy because he came in swinging pretty wild so if I made him miss I could counter him with body shots,” Elizondo said. “He definitely tried to slug it out with me. He was way shorter. He has a lot of power. I realized tonight that I have a really good chin. Oh, yeah, man. It hurt. My tooth is killing me right now. I have a lot of respect for Aaron Perez. He came to fight.”
Elizondo suffered a cut over his left eye in the third round, but he reciprocated with body blows that proved to be the decisive factor.
“He won the first three rounds,” Elizondo said. “He was being really smart. He had cool little moves. He was throwing me off. It was awkward but I started catching him with repeated body shots. After I started catching him you could see that was hurting him and my father kept telling him keep going to the body. After I kept hitting him to the body I could see the pace was mine.”
Father-trainer Jose Elizondo said, “I noticed by Round 5 (Perez) was gassing and I kept telling Diego to use that jab and every time he comes keep on that body. He kept hitting him in the body and I think that was the difference in the fight. Even when they exchanged, Diego had the best of him.”
Jose Elizondo trains Diego in a garage converted into a gym. After Diego won his first two fights, he went three years before winning another. Undaunted, he’s taken on the role of underdog, facing opponents with a combined record of 29-3-1. On Feb. 27, he and highly touted newcomer Anthony Cuba fought to a draw that was disputed by the commentators on a nationally televised bout.
Elizondo’s moral victory was followed by an even much greater challenge with Perez.
“To go in his house and beat him, it can’t be sweeter than that,” Jose Elizondo said. “Even in our town, at all the other gyms, they thought we were crazy. But we need to make a move. We can’t keep waiting for an easy fight. If we are going to be in this business, it’s time to make our move.”